Leaving the Safety of Your Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one
feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure.
You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone;
change begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Roy T. Bennett
Tracking the US cases became a daily obsession in the early days. This was from 13 March 2020

This month I’ve struggled with how to process the last year. I’ve wanted to write a post remembering the last week of normal life before the world shut down. The sign in CVS saying they were sold out of isopropyl alcohol and antiseptic wipes. The lines of worried patrons pushing toilet-paper topped carts down grocery aisles waiting to check out. Feeling foolish wearing a mask for the first time, like I was playing cops and robbers.

Shit got real for me when I heard Tom Hanks had Covid-19.

Michigan locked down, we were third in the nation for covids deaths, and every day seemed more surreal than the last. Each lockdown day was marked on the calendar, as if I was doing time. I dyed my hair purple. I doomscrolled social media searching for the coronavirus cavalry and watched a young woman in YouTube videos explaining the pandemic to her past self…and was horrified when she asked what year it was.

As the telework days turned into months and Spring turned to Summer in the chaos that was my personal life, I tried to hike every day at the state park across the street to prevent the walls from closing in. I needed something to look forward to so I set a retirement date of 31 July 2021. I moved closer to family to have a home base and quit numbering the lockdown days on the calendar.

Searching for and buying a home via Facetime turned out easier than I imagined, and packing up and selling the home across from the state park I loved to hike was gut wrenching. Having worked from home with a lockdown mentality, it was tough having people in my home getting it ready for sale, but it had to be done.

I was nervous about traveling because the last thing I wanted was to catch was the virus. With the Uhaul hitched to my Outback, I headed to my new life, and spent a restless night in a hotel halfway there, the first since being locked down.

Moving back to North Dakota in September, it seemed as if people were in denial about coronavirus and I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. The first weekend in my new home, the neighbor across the street with the Trump signs in her yard wanted to have a gathering of the neighborhood ladies to get to know my daughter and I.

“Where would we have the gathering?”

“In my Living Room.”

“I don’t really feel comfortable with that. I just moved from Michigan where we had refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals.”

“Well, by October can be pretty cold. I guess we can play it by ear.”

The Friday before the Sunday gathering, my neighbor called to say she had Covid and the gathering had been delayed. I was relieved. Shortly after, local cases skyrocketed and the state hit the national news becoming North Dacovid. I questioned whether I had made the right decision to move back to my home state.

The upsides of the move were the first holidays spent with family in decades and access to great medical care when my daughter had emergency surgery in December. I had spent months avoiding people and hospitals, now I had to be there for my daughter. I focused my thoughts on her to avoid disaster-sizing the what ifs. My temperature was checked when I arrived at the hospital, they only let one visitor in at a time, everyone was masked, and they moved around like normal people in the land of the living. It was the beginning of starting to feel comfortable again out in the world, yet staying masked and protecting myself.

Hiking in the mountains near Tucson

I was so glad to put 2020 behind me, hoping that with retirement on the horizon 2021 would be a better year. After the national chaos that was January, February loomed large on the horizon with memories of Portland, the last trip I’d taken before the pandemic. I needed to step outside my comfort zone again.

I’d seen reports of people flying and I had an airline credit with Delta, which was still committed to social distancing. I booked a flight to Tucson, a place I visited in the past, had family and friends who wintered there, and thought it might be right for me in retirement. At least it would be an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend in the warmth of the Arizona sun.

Tucson was everything I remembered and more. With a higher elevation, hiking and bike trails surrounded by mountains, the RV resort with their tennis and pickleball courts, and activities of every kind got me hooked. In my short long weekend trip, I made plans to winter there myself.

Returning home, I set my sights on planning the rest of my retirement dream. I ordered a 16′ Scamp to be delivered in August 2022, then found a 1973 13′ Boler as an interim solution until my Scamp is ready. She’s one of 10K ultralight fiberglass campers that were manufactured in Canada between 1968 and 1988. I won’t have time to do extensive renovations before I hit the road, but the original upholstery is really quite groovy. And she’s light enough to tow with my Outback.

I filed my retirement paperwork and with plans in place, it was just a matter of tying up loose ends…but the nagging shoulder pain I’d been nursing since the move last Summer had other plans. After an MRI revealed tears in the right rotator cuff, an orthopedic surgeon gave me the option of surgery or taking a wait and see approach. I’ve got places to go, things to see, and I want to lead an active retirement with biking, pickleball, and camper hauling, so surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, March 30th.

Life without the use of my dominant arm isn’t the way I imagined the last few months of my working life, but better I get it taken care of so I can enjoy life on the road. I keep reminding myself it’s just another speed bump and growth opportunity. I’ve come through worse so I’m keeping my eye on the prize…an active retirement and a new goal. #ambidextrous

Beauty…or A Love Letter to Trout Lake

On March 26th, I bundled up on a 30-degree day and headed to Island Lake State Park across the street from my home. After a week of Michigan covid cases rising from 60 to more than 560, the walls were closing in and anxiety was mounting.

img_4815I’d never had the courage to hike on my own, but over the past five years I’ve found strength and healing in nature. On that March day, I hiked 1.7 miles. In the early morning hours, it feels as if the lake and trail are my own.

Hiking the same trail brings the comfort of familiarity yet awareness that every day is unique. I’ve watched the trail transform from winter’s leafless slumber to fluffed up Summer foliage threatening to hide its treasures from interloping humans.

The sandy road surrounding Trout Lake can only be reached by foot, bicycle or park ranger patrol. The lake, oh the lake with its still water reflecting the deep coral and blue sunrise as if you are seeing double. As above so below comes to mind, yet ripples remind me it’s but an illusion.

trout-lake-sunrise-beautyOne day might be gloomy and overcast while the next is crisp without a cloud in the sky. Give me a tequila sunrise with interesting cloud formations over a clear sunrise any day of the week.

I’ve seen sand castles, socks on trees, forts, moats, and beach trash, lots of beach trash like Hungry Howie pizza boxes, empty Oberon bottles, and abandoned towels. Just be zen and don’t react, I tell myself. Then I get pissed off at the inconsiderate beachgoers and mutter “Seriously, pack it in, pack it out.” I remind myself to bring a bag next time.

Once a neon translucent teardrop hanging from a tree caught my eye as I passed. It appeared to be a fishing lure wrapped around a branch, but looked more like a charm decorating a tree for fishing season.

img_5602Mother Nature is a gifted artist and my photographs don’t do her justice. They don’t capture the steam rising in tendrils from the lake. My still images make the mallard swimming across the lake and the sandhill cranes flying a V formation with their rattling bugle calls above my head seem insignificant. But I’ve stored those scenes firmly in my head and heart so when I’m living a landlocked life, I can relive them.

Today I took my 68th hike since the pandemic hit. While Michigan cases spiked early making the state number 3 in the country, we’re now number 18 thanks to our Governor’s steady guidance. Work tells me I’ll be teleworking through the end of the calendar year. For now, I cope by hitting the trail at dawn, listening to nature waking up, watching steam rise from the lake, and savoring every sunrise…at least for another six weeks.

Keeping It Real About COVID-19 Anxiety

white and brown wooden tiles
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Earlier this month, my day job told me I had been selected for a six month developmental position in California. I miss the left coast and figured it would be a good way to get my Cali fix so I applied. I’d been monitoring the coronavirus situation in Europe via Twitter. The previous weekend I’d noticed an orange dot on the map near where the assignment would be located.

I confirmed my acceptance tentatively to begin April 1st. Then I added “Do you think the coronavirus situation will impact travel or the assignment?”

“I don’t know, let me check.”

Well, we know how fast things have escalated since then. Needless to say, I’m hunkered down at home with my wife, our two Australian Shepherds, and our tortie cat Mocha. I’m thankful to be able to work from home for the past week and for the foreseeable future, but I’m worried about our healthcare system, essential workers, and people living in the margins.

I’m not gonna lie…I vacillate between a zen-like “I’ll handle whatever comes” to an “oh shit, I said I never wanted to survive the zombie apocalypse” feeling. Daily life? It’s somewhere in between.

I’m a figure out a plan, get it done kind of person. I’ve never identified as being anxious until recently with all the unknowns. Sunday my anxiety was off the hook. The reality is I’m over 60, prone to bronchitis, and have an “underlying condition”. If shit hits the fan and what is happening in Italy happens here, I’ll be one of last priorities. With that in mind, I’ve been getting my affairs in order with the thought that if I’m prepared, it won’t happen. So given that, let me share a couple of podcasts that have helped me with techniques to manage my newfound anxiety.

Brené Brown has an awesome new podcast called Unlocking Us, and her first episode is about FFTs/TFTs (effing First Times or the family friendly Terrible First Times). She acknowledges that this locked-in pandemic living is new and scary for all of us. So she encourages listeners to name and normalize the new thing, put it in perspective, then reality check your expectations. It’s a great listen, and I look forward to her future episodes.

In my hyperanxiety state yesterday, I searched “coronavirus” in my podcast app and came up with an episode called Fear in the Time of Coronavirus on the Being Well podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest Hanson. Dr. Hanson is a Bay Area psychologist and he and his son are the authors of Resilient. I was hooked at 1:22 minutes when Forrest says, “I can say personally, I feel psychoemotionally activated literally every time I hear the word coronavirus.” During the podcast, they talk about their feelings, how to cope with our inner and outer worlds, and techniques and tools for coping with this new reality. It was a great help in calming my monkey brain.

Today Michigan’s Governor Whitmer held a press conference where she said the Michigan COVID-19 cases doubled over the weekend. As a result, she issued a Stay At Home Order for the next three weeks. Excuse me while I go listen to the podcasts again.

Be safe and stay healthy!

Social Distancing & Telework

One week ago, the first two cases of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the State of Michigan. Today, the number increased to 65. Thankfully we haven’t had any deaths, but COVID-19 related deaths in the US now exceeds 100. There are nearly 200K cases worldwide and the number of new US cases today doubled yesterday’s number…that is not a good trend.

Last Thursday I braved the crowds at Kroger and bought what I thought we might need for a couple of weeks. I worked my normal telework day on Friday then ventured out for a thermometer (we take and record our temperatures every morning and evening), isopropyl alcohol (since all the bleach and hand sanitizers were sold out), and a couple of pizzas. Then we hunkered down for the weekend.

By Monday, my day job was encouraging telework which could very well last awhile. My anxiety was off the hook with all the changes and unknowns, so I took a walk around the lake near my house. It was just the shot of Vitamin N I needed.

Today on my lunch walk, I decided that if this is my new normal for awhile, I’m going to embrace it. I’ll get back to writing since I have a little more time now that I don’t have a commute. And I’ll enjoy at least once daily walks in nature.

Trying times for sure, but we’ll get through it.

Covid Chaos

CVS Pharmacy Sign Seen on Friday, 3/13

Saturday, 14 March – Michigan schools are closing, cases are mushrooming, and residents are stockpiling. It’s not the zombie apocalypse but I imagine it might feel similar.

I read a story about brothers in a southern state who traveled over a thousand miles to buy up all the masks and hand sanitizer they could get their hands on. Funny how their first nudge was to capitalize off other people’s misery. And people fighting over toilet paper. Have we lost our humanity already?

The poetry reading I was looking forward to tomorrow is cancelled. My monthly writing group meeting next week is cancelled. Seems like a good time to hunker down and write…but I find myself searching for the latest news and wondering if I’m an unknown carrier just waiting for the curtain to fall.

These are trying times.

Writing Myself Home

I attended the Rochester, MI Writer’s Conference at the end of April and A Rally of Writers in Lansing, MI last weekend. The Rochester conference focused on self-publishing and isn’t something I need to worry about yet. At this point, I just need to edit my shitty first draft to get it into a working manuscript.

A Rally of Writers, on the other hand, offered multiple sessions in 3 different time slots throughout the day. With so many topics to choose from, there was something for everyone so my choices were memoir and poetry.

Will “The Poet” Langford opened the session and among the many poems he performed was “Pamoja”,  which was even more moving since that evening the Michigan State Spartans were playing in the NCAA Final Four. Will The Poet’s ability to weave poetic phrases around metaphors was brillant, beautiful to listen to, and brought tears to my eyes more than once. He inspires me to seek out safe spaces to learn to perform spoken word and I looked forward to his afternoon poetry session.

The memoir session was taught by Mardi Jo Link, a journalist  and self described “accidental memoirist”. Link summarized her session by saying memoir needs truth, a timeline and logic the reader can follow, an invitation to experience a life the reader will never know, and a change in the narrator the reader can relate to. I’m working on incorporating all these elements in my memoir, but an off-handed comment about her sons generated a light bulb moment for me. We just never know where know where our next source of inspiration will come from.

In the “Writing Home” afternoon session, Will The Poet talked about his journey to Africa and the need for a home to carry with him in his travels. Church, communities, events, schools, neighborhoods, and work can all be places where we feel a sense of being at home, so he told us to write down five. Then using one of our choices, he brought us to the page to write our own sensory based poem. This is how I feel every time I fly to San Diego and see the Marine Corps Recruit Depot adjacent the airfield as we’re landing:

Lindberg Field

We touch down on the runway…home.
Outside I hear the silent cadence of Marine recruits marching.
I taste the bitterness of regret, but catch a whiff
of promise in the person I became when I marched with them.
With the opening of the hatch, I’m transported back to the present
until the next time I connect with my Marine sisters.

I’m headed to the Michigan Writing Workshop in Livonia on May 4th to round out my Spring writing conference circuit. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting like-minded writers, picking up gold nuggets to incorporate in my own writing, and communing with the writers over lunch. Now I’ve found a new home in the writing community.